Wind energy is the future, and with the help of 3D printing, global leader Vestas is transforming wind energy with Vestas and Markforged 3D printers
Wind energy is a far more efficient energy source than solar and most other renewable technologies. The UK generated 24.8% of its electricity from wind in 2021, and the EU now generates over 14% of its electricity from wind.
Vestas, a global leader in offshore and onshore wind energy, produces over 151 Gigawatts of electricity with wind turbines in 86 countries. They focus exclusively on wind turbine production with world-class manufacturing facilities.
The need for 3D printing
Wind turbines are massive, expensive machines that require hundreds of tools and inspection gauges. The company outsourced these parts for decades, but scaling up production led to high costs and longer lead times.
Worse still, limits on machined designs meant the Vestas team had to order multiple versions of tools to fit a range of blades, creating lots of waste, while the subtractive manufacturing process took twelve weeks.
One such tool was lightning tip receptors designed to reduce lightning strike damage; an external partner for decades manufactured these.
Operating in the engineering space, Vestas knew about 3D printing and its potential to transform production lines. Their venture into 3D printing came because of the need to move more manufacturing processes in-house.
The Markforged solution
The biggest limitation with conventional plastic fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing is the materials available to print. While there are engineering plastics and composite filaments, parts are not as strong as aluminium parts.
The requirement for strong, reinforced parts led Vestas to Markforged’s range of 3D printers, which print nylon and Onyx (a chopped carbon-fibre nylon hybrid material) with continuous strands of composite reinforcement.
Vestas set up a direct digital manufacturing (DDM) program in 2021 to move production in-house and promote innovation from within.
The company now has a local Markforged X7 and Onyx One 3D printers, which they use to manufacture tools and parts for wind turbines.
“Our approach is end-to-end,” says Jeremy Haight, Principal Engineer for Additive Manufacturing & Advanced Concepts at Vestas. “We provide the physical article in near real-time to various places, and it’s the closest thing to teleportation I think you can get.”
For example, the company now manufactures TC marking tools and lightning tip receptors in-house, cutting out other companies. This has produced significant time and cost savings while improving design and engineering freedom.
“We selected Markforged because they were the most capable of providing the end-to-end solution we needed to achieve our vision of DDM,” says Jeremy Haight.
A practical advantage of 3D printing is parts previously made from aluminium are now 85% lighter while retaining the same strength profile.
In the future, the company plans to roll out Markforged 3D printing to all 23 of its production facilities. This will transform the company’s manufacturing footprint and yield significant cost savings worth millions of pounds.
Find out more
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